The book provides a good overview of the business, background on doing business in China, industry landscape and key competitors. It has also quite a detailed portrait of Jack Ma himself as well as background on a few other Chinese Internet entrepreneurs which I found useful.
Unfortunately, the book was short on economics of the business model which is probably the biggest drawback (but I realise it is not a research report). Perhaps, the only other drawback is lack of unique insights into the business model. There are many interesting facts about the company, its history but less on specific service and how it differs from competitors.
In general, Alibaba's business model is based on an 'Iron Triangle': e-commerce, logistics and finance (Alipay). Unlike JD.com
, Alibaba deliberately focused on pursuing asset light model - brining two sides on one marketplace and leaving infrastructure heavy services to third parties. Essentially, Alibaba tries to recreate the experience of an oriental Bazaar where customers are pulled into different sides by various merchants with no standard product or service. Very opposite to sleek Amazon look.
As an asset light model, the core source of revenue for Alibaba is actually advertising, not fees from merchants who only use Alibaba to find customers and have to deal with completing the order (including payments) with their own means. Alipay service is interesting and is way more than just payment service on a marketplace. It appears to me that unlike Amazon, Alibaba is much more focused on merchants rather than consumers as it is really a platform for merchants to find buyers. I think it has developed in such a way in many ways because of realities of China, not sure how easy such model can be replicated in other markets. I think Amazon's obsession with customers experience (its desire to delight them) leads to better results and financial rewards in the long-term.
Clark also discusses what external conditions helped Amazon to rise in China - that is weak incumbents (awful experience of shopping at former state shops) and expensive real estate in key cities (it was not easy to get hold of a land plot in general as everything was strictly regulated).